Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber says he is still hopeful the season will start on time, even as the professional soccer league and its players head into the last week of their offseason without a collective bargaining agreement.
”We had hoped that by now this would have been resolved,” Garber said on Friday at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference.
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”I’m hopeful. I believe, and I know I speak for our owners … nobody’s looking for a work stoppage. We are prepared for it, but we’re all hopeful that we are able to bang through these issues.”
The league’s contract with its players expired Jan. 31. Players have been asking for free agency for the first time, but the league’s single-entity structure allows teams to fill their rosters without bidding wars. On Friday, Garber fined Real Salt Lake owner Dell Loy Hansen $150,000 – the largest fine in MLS history – for saying the players’ demand for free agency is ”just a foolish place to waste time.”
The sides will resume meeting with a federal mediator on Sunday. During the last labor negotiations in 2010, the sides reached an agreement five days before the opener.
Garber said he already has his plane ticket to Los Angeles, where the MLS Cup champion Galaxy will play Chicago in the season opener on March 6 in suburban Carson.
Also Friday, Garber volunteered his league to be a ”guinea pig” for any technological experiments that international soccer rulemaking authorities would be interested in trying, including instant replays, goal-line technology and cameras on players.
”If I were king, we would have instant replays. … Our players would be wearing GoPro cameras and we would be doing all kinds of things to engage with (young fans) in a way that they are used to,” he said. ”Let us be the guinea pigs for just about anything these folks want to do.”
Garber also repeated his frustration with the choice of Qatar – over the United States – as the host for the 2022 World Cup; he said many of the decisions made since then have also been bad. FIFA’s executive committee is expected to announce next month it is moving the tournament to November-December because it is too hot in Qatar during the usual June-July period.
MLS in recent years had ended its regular season in October and played its championship in December. The schedule would need change to make room for the 2022 World Cup.
”It’s not that they didn’t know it was hot in Qatar in the summer,” Garber said. ”They should have thought about that before they made that decision.”